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WASHINGTON D.C. – Winners and finalists of the Military Spouse of the Year competition for the last few years take a photo with Oprah Winfrey after being invited to the screening of a new show and instead were surprised with an “Oprah’s Favorite Things” episode in October. The thirty spouses were handpicked by Oprah to fly to Washington and receive gifts because of their dedication with volunteerism, personal sacrifice and impact on community change. The episode will air Nov. 18. (Courtesy photo)
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Hanscom spouse receives incredible surprise

Posted 11/14/2012   Updated 11/15/2012 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Foster
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

11/14/2012 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.  -- Military spouses are known for the unwavering support of their servicemembers, but many are fierce in their own right.

This is true for one particular Hanscom spouse that was a finalist in the 2012 Military Spouse of the Year competition for Military Spouse magazine. Ingrid Herrera-Yee was a top finalist in the competition that her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Ian Yee, nominated her for in October 2011.

"My husband told me how supportive I was and that I deserved to win," said Herrera-Yee. "It made me cry when he told me why he nominated me."

At the time, Herrera-Yee was working as a university professor, taking care of three boys at home, raising funds for charity, mentoring military students at her university and advocating for special needs family members.

"I was a finalist and was happy with that because it gives you a platform to talk about things that are important to you," she said. "I'm starting a foundation with another psychologist in Virginia to help other military spouses that work in the mental health field. We're working on license portability because we move but our licenses don't."

Herrera-Yee has a doctorate in clinical psychology and wants to see more military spouses get the opportunity to use their mental health field specialties, no matter where they live. She is hoping the foundation will help military spouses pay for their license and, in turn, the spouses would work pro bono with servicemembers after they have returned from deployment.

"It's a way to help our servicemembers that may be struggling after returning from overseas, as well as helping military spouses," she said.

The family moved from Monterey, Calif., to Hanscom Air Force Base in July and Herrera-Yee quickly settled in and started helping out the spouses in her new community.

"I talked to my hairstylist here and set it up so he will be giving four free haircuts a month to spouses with deployed family members," she said.

Herrera-Yee explained she understands how exhausting it is when a spouse is deployed and knows something small like a free haircut can make such a difference. Her husband is deployed and will not be back until next summer.

"It makes me happy to help other people, especially military families," she said. "I also work with Gold Star families. It's very difficult, but rewarding, work that I keep up with it because it's important to me."

Gold Star families are classified as having lost a loved one on the battlefield, according to www.goldstarfamilyregistry.com. Herrera-Yee writes to the families and supports them through the struggles and challenges of losing a loved one to war.

Although Herrera-Yee did not win the Military Spouse of the Year award, she was recognized in a way that she never could have imagined.

"I got a random call from Babette Maxwell, the editor of Military Spouse magazine and the woman that started the military spouse of the year program," she said. "Babette asked if I would like to come to Washington, (D.C.) as there was something going on with Harpo productions. Of course, I said sure."

Thirty spouses, all Military Spouse of the Year award winners and finalists from the previous few years, met in Washington in mid-October to screen a new military documentary series for Oprah's television network--at least that is what they were told.

"The best part was meeting all the other spouses and having dinner and sharing stories the day we got there," said Herrera-Yee. "The next day we were told to be camera ready and we all expected to be asked to give feedback on the show."

The group entered a room with big white couches and a couple of televisions. They were told there were technical difficulties which led to a delay. The women sat and waited for everything to be cleared up.

"It was all a bit of a blur," Herrera-Yee said. "I'm already under a deployment fog and the surprise made me even foggier. The curtains dropped and Oprah Winfrey came out in a red Christmas shirt and said 'all my favorite things' and I thought, 'wait...what?' Elves started coming out with all these gifts. There were all kinds of gifts everywhere. It was just one thing after another."

Oprah aired an "Oprah's Favorite Things" episode each year on her daytime show but had not done one since the show ended in 2011.

"We were there with Oprah for a couple of hours. It was an experience of a lifetime," she said. "I couldn't speak and my biggest regret was I didn't speak to Oprah. I just couldn't say anything. Everybody was hugging her and I was just in awe. She's so sweet and a beautiful person."

After the initial shock of the surprise wore off, Herrera-Yee started to think about what she could donate from all the gifts.

"Oprah called us deserving military spouses," she said. "It's usually audiences full of people but this time she hand-picked each of us. We were representing 1.1 million military spouses. There are just so many others that are incredibly deserving of this."

The other spouses convinced Herrera-Yee not to donate the gifts as they were meant for her. Although the group of spouses was used to always giving, this time it was something special just for them.

Some of the gifts included an elliptical trainer, an electric bike, Microsoft Surface, diamond necklaces and a knife set. The full list is available online at www.oprah.com/favoritethings.com and there will be a surprise or two still to come.

For Herrera-Yee, one of the most important parts of the experience is the connection she made with her fellow spouses. The group of 30 continues to talk to each other about what they can do to better the lives of servicemembers and their families. She also thanked Military Spouse magazine for starting the award program so that spouses could have a voice in Washington.

Although her husband is deployed and will be for quite a bit longer, Herrera-Yee loves being a military spouse and doing what she can for her military family.

"I love the sense of community. If you need someone, they will help you out...even if it's someone you barely know," she said. "We've been made to feel like part of the Air Force family here even though we're Army National Guard. I think this is the best place I've ever lived because everyone understands what you're going through."

Anyone interested in seeing Herrera-Yee on television may view Oprah's Favorite Things 2012 Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. Special messages will appear throughout the show explaining what viewers can do for a chance to win what the spouses won.

To nominate a deserving spouse for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year 2013 go to www.msoy.militaryspouse.com. The link will be live on Nov. 18.

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